Asylum-seeker’s successful suit against U.S. could help others affected by anti-immigrant policies

An asylum-seeker who filed suit against the federal government after she and her son were jailed in abusive conditions and forced to endure cruel attempts from immigration officials to get her to give up her asylum claim has won a $125,000 settlement—and advocates believe her first-of-its-kind lawsuit could help other families that have been mistreated by the government under “zero tolerance” and other hateful policies.

Suny Rodríguez had already been living in the U.S. in the late 1990s under Temporary Protected Status when, in 2003, a family member in Honduras was killed. Relatives blamed corrupt police, and when they spoke out, they were also shot and killed. In 2006, Rodríguez was forced to return to investigate for herself, only to eventually become a target as well. She, her boyfriend, and her son Daniel fled back to the U.S. in late 2014, hoping for protection. They had hoped in vain.

“Rodríguez and Daniel were taken to a hielera, or ‘icebox’—a frigid holding cell—where they had to sleep on a wet, crowded floor,” The New Yorker reports. “One agent, Rodríguez recalls, pressured her to sign paperwork consenting to her deportation. ‘It’s pointless to seek asylum,’ he told her.” Officials even seized Daniel’s asthma medication, “and he shivered and struggled to breathe” as they continued to harass her into dropping her claim and agreeing to be deported.

The family was then moved to a migrant family jail, where officials detained the child past the 20-day limit under the Flores Settlement Agreement. “Eventually, on March 12, 2015, a judge ordered that Daniel be released to his aunt. Still, ICE didn’t let him go,” The New Yorker reports. Instead, officials attempted to take the boy to a facility where children who came to the U.S. by themselves are jailed, telling Rodríguez that “He’ll be adopted.” Officials only gave up trying to take the boy when he screamed and refused to let go of Rodríguez.

She eventually won relief from deportation, and asylum for Daniel, with the help of a group of Yale law students, who went on to create the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project. The group then sued the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and “with Suny’s case as important precedent,” the group said, “ASAP plans to help more asylum-seeking families fight back, especially those who have been impacted by zero tolerance policies at the border such as family separation.”

“I decided to bring this lawsuit because I wanted to bring to light the injustices against asylum seekers—mothers and fathers who bring their children to the United States in search of safety,” Rodríguez said. “What happened to my family should never happen to anyone’s family. I hope that other families will see my case and no longer be scared to stand up and tell the public the truth about what goes on at the border.”

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Hundreds march on Father’s Day to demand closure of Florida prison camp jailing 1,300 migrant kids

​​​​​​Carrying signs reading "Homes Instead!" and "Stop Separating Families,” hundreds marched in the rain over the Father’s Day weekend to demand the closure of the prison camp for migrant children in Homestead, Florida. The site is currently jailing 1,300 migrant kids. Under the Trump administration’s anti-child policies, that number is expected to balloon to as high as 3,200 kids.

Advocates have been vocal in pushing for the closure of Homestead, which is unlicensed and has been described as “prison-like” by visiting members of Congress. In fact, children who have been released from the prison camp have said they were routinely threatened with prolonged detainment for breaking rules that even barred them from hugging each other.

"When I first came here, they gave us an orientation and told us that we had to follow the rules: no touching, five minutes for taking showers, 15 minutes to eat, no lending clothes, no taking any food into the bunk room, no sitting on anyone else's bed,” said 13-year-old J.D. “If we don't follow the rules or pay attention to the youth counselors they said, we would get a report. If you get a report, you'll end up spending more time here." This child abuse is making people a fortune, specifically the company that won a no-bid $341 million dollar contract from the federal government to run Homestead.

Immigrant rights leader Thomas Kennedy writes that “while Comprehensive Health Services and by extension its parent company Caliburn (which former DHS head and Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly sits on the board) is clearly benefiting from public sector dollars, it is also being heavily financed by corporate backers. Financial documents show that Bank of America is one of Caliburn’s main financiers, providing a $380 million loan and a $75 million revolving credit line.”

Outside Homestead, advocates like Rabbi Judith Siegal stood on stepladders so that their signs of solidarity could be visible to the jailed children on the other side of the tall fencing. "We see you, we love you,” they said. “Los vemos y los queremos." In photographs posted by the American Friends Services Committee, children, some wearing orange caps, can be seen being shuffled from one tent to another. In one picture, a boy can be seen waving back to the group outside.

No child belongs in detention, period. “In Homestead, this detention facility has been allowed to attach a for-profit motive to the detention of hundreds of immigrant kids while operating without transparency or accountability,” Kennedy says. “The result is a place where children are packed like sardines in over capacity bedrooms and classrooms, and are not allowed to touch each other for months at a time while enduring mistreatment.” Shut Homestead down.

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Border Patrol had been jailing a prematurely born infant and her mom until advocates intervened

Attorneys who visited a Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas, as part of an inspection found that officials there had been illegally jailing a sick, prematurely born one-month-old infant and her 17-year-old mother for days, BuzzFeed News reports. This same facility, known as Ursula, was last year called “the ‘epicenter’ of the Trump administration’s policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents” by an official with the Department of Homeland Security.

“You look at this baby,” said volunteer Hope Frye, “and there is no question that this baby should be in a tube with a heart monitor.” Instead, the tiny child was wrapped in a sweatshirt and was reportedly “weak and listless.” Her mom, still weak from her emergency C-section in Mexico, was in a wheelchair and hadn’t been able to sleep due to pain.

They shouldn’t have been there in the first place. “Under federal law, minors are required to be released from Border Patrol custody within 72 hours to officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement after they are determined to be unaccompanied. Both the 17-year-old mother and her 1-month-old baby are considered unaccompanied minors.”

This family isn’t an outlier. The Washington Post last month reported that hundreds of children “have been with the Border Patrol for longer than 72 hours, and another official said that more than 250 children 12 or younger have been in custody for an average of six days.” Who knows how much longer this mom and infant would have been in custody, had attorneys and others not intervened?

“Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, called Department of Homeland Security officials Thursday about the case,” BuzzFeed continued. “On Thursday, nine days after attorneys said the mother was taken into Border Patrol custody, the pair were set to be released to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter, Frye was told.” Merkley tweeted, “After my emergency call to DHS, they say this family will be released immediately.”

It’s under this sort of treatment that children die, and children will keep dying unless swift action is taken. In May, 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez was found dead while in Border Patrol custody, just one day after complaining about not feeling well. “I want to see specific plans from the administration to provide real medical checks, including checking vitals, on every child who comes into our government’s custody,” Merkley said about this death. “We need urgency, and we need answers, not excuses.”

“No child should ever go into Border Patrol custody—they are not equipped to handle it,” Frye continued. “It was never their mission. Congress needs to do something.” About obtaining the family’s freedom, she said, “I don’t know why it took so long. I don’t know. They would still be detained if we hadn’t come across her in the Flores interview. No question in my mind.” How many others are there that we don’t yet know about, and when we do, will it be too late?

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Over 120 groups come out in opposition to extremist’s appointment as USCIS acting director

Over 120 national groups, including the NAACP, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America are opposing the appointment of extremist Ken Cuccinelli to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, writing that he has “promoted anti-immigrant views and policies that are antithetical to the important work that would be entrusted to him as the USCIS director.”

It’s still unclear whether or not Cuccinelli’s appointment as the agency’s acting director is legal, or if the Trump administration intends to nominate him as the permanent director, but what is clear is his radicalism. From comparing immigrants to rodents to praising anti-Muslim activists to saying that the U.S.-born kids of undocumented immigrants should be denied U.S. citizenship, this failed candidate has no business serving in any role at USCIS, the groups say.

“The director of USCIS has the important role of overseeing our immigration system, from adjudicating the claims of individuals seeking asylum, petitioning for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, and applying for U.S. citizenship. Cuccinelli has spent his career in and out of public office promoting anti-immigrant policies and propagating dehumanizing rhetoric and ideas.”

And pallin’ around with a racist who got stripped of his House assignments and was a hair away from being censured (though what he really deserved was expulsion). “In May 2012, as attorney general for the state of Virginia, Cuccinelli hailed Rep. Steve King as ‘one of my very favorite congressmen,’” they continue, “adding ‘I probably spend more time with Steve on Capitol Hill than anybody else.’”

Now Steve’s buddy is heading an agency that, among a ton of important things, handles naturalization documents for immigrants. What could ever go wrong? “Cuccinelli’s track record shows that if confirmed, he would work to undermine the goals of the very agency that he would be in charge of leading,” the groups say. “The undersigned organizations urge you to oppose the nomination of Ken Cuccinelli for the role of director of USCIS.”

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